Category Archives: Reviews

Quill Soup

Noko, the porcupine, is very hungry. On arriving at a village, he asks the other animals for some food and shelter. But, despite their full bellies, all the animals say they have nothing to spare. Never mind: he’ll just have to make do and cook a pot of soup from the quills off his back – a soup so tasty even the king likes it. Once the villagers hear of his plan they offer just enough ingredients to make a soup worthy of them all…
This African version of Stone Soup celebrates generosity and kindness – and the message that we can all benefit if we share our resources. It’s part of our One Story, Many Voices series, which explores well-known tales told from different cultural perspectives.

Tiny Owl blurb
Quill Soup, written by Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar

I’m sure many readers of this blog are aware of the tale Stone Soup, and there will be well thumbed versions of it in most libraries. This is an African version, with the same message : that we can all benefit if we share resources, and an exhortation to open our arms to strangers (something that desperately needs encouraging in these times).

Quill Soup was retold by British author Alan Durant and illustrated by Dale Blankenaar, a full time illustrator from South Africa. The illustrations are wonderfully detailed, there is so much going on in each spread while the animals (such a range of animals) try to put off the newcomer, the colours are bold and captivating, and the text is great to read aloud.

Tiny Owl are a new(ish), small independent publisher of books for children with one aim: to promote under-represented voices and cultures in beautiful picture books. Quill Soup is part of a series they have called One Story, Many Voices, exploring “well-known stories told from different cultural perspectives from all over the world, pairing authors and illustrators from different countries and different backgrounds.”. Also already published, and also wonderful and different, are Cinderella of the Nile and The Phoenix of Persia.

Thankyou Tiny Owl for sending me a copy of Quill Soup to review, it is available to buy now!

The Third Degree with Louie Stowell

Brilliant illustrations by Davide Ortu, including this fab cover!
Matt pipped me to the post and wrote this glowing review of The Dragon in the Library a couple of weeks ago! But I got to ask Louie some questions…

Hi Louie, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

You’ve written/worked on a lot of non-fiction, have you had a story bubbling up for a long time or did it come to you suddenly?

This particular story came very suddenly, but I’ve been writing fiction in the background for a long time. My first novel (in a drawer) was about a half-vampire, half-fairy who gave you a wish in return for blood.

A lot of research is needed for both types of writing, but was it a very different approach? Do you prefer one over the other?

I never see it as stories OR non-fiction. It’s both. Facts are magic too. I still work on non-fiction at work so it’s great to keep doing that. Fiction obviously gives you more scope to take things in any direction you want, unconstrained by reality, although writing stories that feel real is very important to me. I love fantasy that happens in the midst of everyday life, just out of sight.

This is quite a love letter to libraries & library staff, why are they so important to you?

As a child, going to the library was a ritual – and having an (apparently) infinite supply of books was incredible. The thing I remember most is the book smell. It smelled like possibility. As an adult, I want new generations to have that sense of infinity.

What made you decide to make the main character a reluctant reader instead of a bookish child?

I felt like I’d read a lot of books where the main character was into books, but a lot of children I meet in real life aren’t so… I suppose I wanted to give them a go in the driving seat. Also, because it’s fun to put characters in uncomfortable positions, so the idea of forcing an unbookish person to do something that requires lots of reading felt enjoyably mean. [C: I really enjoyed listening to Louie explain this to a room of book lovers at the YLG London AGM, but she didn’t need to worry, we love the challenge of reluctant readers!]

Who is your favourite Dragon in fiction?

Smaug. It’s always Smaug. What a class act.

Have you done any school visits? If so, what’s the best bit?

I’ve done loads of non-fiction ones but I’ve just started doing ones for the Dragon in the Library and what I’m really enjoying is the suspension of reality – creating a fictional world in the real world, and pretending that magic is 100% real. (Or am I pretending…?)

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’m currently reading A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and it is beautiful and magical. One for anyone who’s in touch with their emotional side… but also people like me who aren’t at all, but books like this help me learn more about how feelings work.

What’s next for Kit & co.?

I’m trying to work out how to say this in unspoilery terms… their next adventure involves a journey and a new wizard… and a new monster. 

Huge thanks to Louie for answering my questions on top of her actual blog tour, and to Nosy Crow for sending me (and Matt all the way in America!) proofs, and to both Louie and Nosy Crow for the brilliant talk and signed books at the YLG London 2019 AGM last week! I loved what Louie said about the importance of just having books around (in lots of formats) and you might just “slip into one”, quite literally in this story.

The Dragon in the Library is out now!

The Dragon in the Library

Kit can’t STAND reading,

She’d MUCH rather be outside, playing games and getting muddy, than stuck inside with a book. But when she’s dragged along to the library one day by her two best friends, she makes an incredible discovery – and soon it’s up to Kit and her friends to save the library … and the world.

Hidden within the words of this wonderful text is a social action and protest guide, espousing the power of working together to overthrow the short-sighted policies of those consumed by greed that know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Phew – that sounds pretty heavy for a children’s book!

But don’t worry!

The Dragon in the Library is a lot of things, it is a rousing tale of friendship and magical adventure, and it is a recognition of the power in collective action and the shared joy of reading as well as being a celebration of stories, the belief in magic, Libraries and all those that use them and work therein!

It is GLORIOUS! As a Librarian I felt seen and valued, Louie is an author that gets what Libraries are and how they make people feel, she understands what we do, and she has also written a fun tale that moves along at a cracking pace for readers of all ages.

The Dragon in the Library is written by Louie Stowell and illustrated by David Ortu. It is published by Nosy Crow and will be available from the 6th June 2019 in good bookshops everywhere!

How Not to Lose It

April has been Stress Awareness Month in the UK, soI thought I’d share with you this book for teenagers about looking after their mental health that I was sent earlier this year by Scholastic

How Not to Lose it, written by Anna Williamson and illustrated by Sophie Beer

Anna Williamson is a TV presenter and has written for adults, as well as being an ambassador and national spokesperson for Mind, The Prince’s Trust, and Childline, and working as a counsellor for children and young people.

contents page

The book covers lots of issues that will affect the emotional and mental health of most teenagers: including school, families, friendships, sex and sexuality, and the dreaded puberty, and things that can be affected: such as body image, self-esteem, and fears. To make the book accessible it is set out really nicely with illustrations by Sophie Beer, and it includes some real actions that readers can take to improve situations.

Toxic friendship is well covered in the ‘Just be You’ chapter

There are also some other brilliant mental health books for teenagers around at the moment (not to mention the excellent fiction dealing with mental health issues, or simply the fact that reading a book is good for you…). I’m also a fan of the Usborne Looking After Your Mental Health book, and Nicola Morgan has written lots about it, for teens and their grownups!

Scholastic Voices

A series of gripping adventures that reflect the authentic, unsung stories of our past.

The series so far!

Last year Scholastic announced the launch of their new series of books, Voices, a series bringing to life BAME figures from British history, who’s stories are rarely told. I have been lucky enough to be sent the first two, both of which are fantastically paced, evocative, believable, heartbreaking, exciting, thought provoking, rage-inducing, and full of historically accurate information ripe for discussion. They are both brilliant stories in their own right, I expect to see them on topic reading lists in primary and secondary schools and in every school library, and I am really looking forward to finding out what is next in the series!


The world is at war and standing on the shores of Dunkirk, a young Indian soldier fights in defence of a Kingdom that does not see him as equal.
My trust in the kindness and decency of others ended. It seemed I had reached a point of no return...”

Bali Rai’s Now or Never

Bali Rai wrote the first, Now or Never: A Dunkirk Story, about a period of time that every British school child has to learn about, but an aspect of that historical event that has been brushed under the carpet by the history books. Faz is one of hundreds of Indians that volunteered to join the British army during WW2 and who were then so badly treated. Scholastic interviewed him about it here. It has been out since January.

When Eve and her mother hear that one of the African divers sent to salvage the Mary Rose is still alive, and that another wreck rich with treasures lies nearby, they set out to find him.

“The water was my destiny. I knew it…I breathed in slowly and slipped over the edge of the boat into the water.”

Patrice Lawrence’s Diver’s Daughter

The second book is Diver’s Daughter: A Tudor Story, from Patrice Lawrence, makes it clear that black people have been in Britain for a lot longer than the Windrush generation, and focussing on another oft-taught about feature of English history: Henry VIII’s flagship, Mary Rose. Her author’s note says she didn’t want to focus on slavery, but it is definitely clear that people of African descent were not safe despite it being illegal on English soil at that time. It is being published in May, look out for it.

Diver’s Daughter brought to mind Catherine Johnson’s many (and brilliant) historical novels…maybe she’ll do one of the future books in the series (fingers crossed)?

The Third Degree with Justin A. Reynolds

From debut author Justin A. Reynolds comes Opposite of Always, a razor-sharp, hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose and the moments that make life worth reliving.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, he knows he’s falling – hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

I was given a copy of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS at the CILIP YLG London Macmillan event in January, it was one of the books they told us about that I loved the sound of, so when I was given the opportunity to ask Justin some questions for the blog I rushed it to the top of my TBR pile, and boy am I glad I did! It isn’t your classic YA love story, it isn’t your classic teen angst story, but it is your classic teenager trying to deal with what life throws at him. Jack is a great protagonist, making terrible decisions and bad jokes while his family and friends stick by his side through thick and thin (so refreshing). It is funny and moving and totally engrossing, and I finished it in a day.

Hi Justin, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

‘Opposite of Always’ is your debut novel, was it a long journey to publication or was it snapped up?

Great question. The answer is actually a combination of both. Opposite of Always is my third or fourth completed manuscript, after drafting my first back at university; so, yes, it’s been a long journey in that sense. In fact, at one point, right before beginning this draft, I’d considered giving up writing altogether. Of course, now I’m glad I kept going. Once my agent took the story out on submission with publishers, we had immediate interest the very next day, and it was a whirlwind from there. I was very fortunate.

Do you still have a day job? How have you managed writing time?

Currently, writing is my day job, which is something I’d always dreamed of—writing full time. I do often think of my former occupation, though, with a special fondness; I was a registered nurse and had the privilege of assisting so many awesome patients get back on their feet. It was a very different job than writing, but both revolve around stories, on shaping a narrative. And both require a great deal of humility and empathy.

What has been the best thing so far about being published?

The best thing has been the opportunity to meet so many fantastic people! The young adult book community, as it turns out, is smaller than I thought; which has been nice because it’s afforded me the chance to get to know other writers. They’ve shared their personal stories of perseverance with me and they’ve given me great advice throughout this entire journey; it’s been a tremendous (and unexpected) help!

You say in your introduction that it is your “refusal to say goodbye” to lost loved ones. Did you find yourself using any real memories in the story or is it all fictional?

So, I actually struggled with the idea of writing a story that stemmed from those personal losses. I wasn’t sure that I had the right to include those personal memories because they were no longer around to share their opinions; because of that, I did not use any specific memories in OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS. But the characters are certainly composites of people that I love; people that have loved me.

Jack has extremely supportive parents, something often missing in YA and very much missing from his friends’ lives, was that the case from the very first draft?

I love this question! The answer is yes! It was absolutely the case from the very first draft. There were a couple of things about this story that I knew from the beginning beginning—one was that Jack’s voice would be the focal point, and another was that he would have a very loving and dynamic support network—the center of which would be his parents. Not only was it important to me that their love for Jack be front and center, but that their love for his friends would feel the same. I think much of the parents’ instincts to love and support Jack (and company) stems from their deep (and sometimes super affectionate haha) love for each other.

You reference ‘Groundhog Day’, were there any other time travel influences that you’d recommend?

I love the movie ‘About Time’! If you haven’t seen it yet, please do yourself a favor and correct that immediately!

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I just finished a great book called ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme’ by Tiffany D. Jackson; at first glance it may appear to be a departure from her previous work—stories intent on drawing attention to the disregarded and giving voice to the overlooked—but at her newest novel’s core is the same heart and urgency present in all of her stories. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves music, values friendship, and enjoys superb storytelling.

Any plans to come to the UK?

I definitely want to visit the UK! Is this an invitation? 😀

I’m afraid we can’t stretch the budget to airfares, but I know a lot of librarians that would definitely love to meet you if you do come over!

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is out in the UK on the 4th April 2019.

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist


Joe Quinn tells everyone about the poltergeist in his house, but no one believes him. No one that is, except for Davie. He’s felt the inexplicable presence in the rooms, he’s seen random objects fly through the air. And there’s something else … a memory of his beloved sister, and a feeling deep down that somehow it might be possible for ghosts to exist.


David Almond is one of the most interesting writers for children in the UK, creating unique, thought provoking, and curious stories and characters (including the much loved ‘Skellig’). ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist’ is one that is heavily influenced by his childhood near Newcastle, growing up in a Catholic family living in a council estate (until he was 13). The introduction tells us a bit about this background, his loss of a sister when he was aged 7, and his love of reading and libraries. The story itself is not so much a ghost story as a story of a boy hoping for something, coming to terms with grief, and realising that life goes on even while you work out what you believe.

I had already read ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist’, as it is one of the short stories in his collection ‘Half a Creature from the Sea‘, published by Walker in 2014, but reading it again with Dave McKean‘s illustrations was a whole new experience. When judging the Kate Greenaway nominations, you need to consider how much the illustrations are an integral part of the story, whether it would be the same or lesser without them, and this is one where I would easily say that it leaves a lasting impression far enhancing that of the words on their own. The pacing of the text and placement in and around the illustrations flows beautifully, the pages are so evocative while the faces of the characters show so much emotion, and I fully expect to see this on the 2020 Greenaway longlist.

Thankyou so much to Walker books for sending me a copy of ‘Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist‘ to review. Their site suggests it is for readers aged 9+, I’d put a heavy emphasis on the ‘+’ because it is one of those that can be skimmed or read deeply and speaks on many levels.

This is the fourth of Almond’s books that McKean has illustrated, Slog’s Dad and The Savage are a similar format and of a similar brilliance, ‘Mouse Bird Snake Wolf’ is suitable from a slightly younger age. I suggest if you’ve not seen them already you seek them out too!

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

If you think finding a body is a fun adventure, you’re 33% right.

fantastic cover art by Wumzum


There has been a murder in THE TRI, the high-rise buildings where know-it-alls Nik and Norva live. Armed with curiosity, local knowledge and unlimited time – until the end of the summer holidays – the dogged and determined detective duo take it upon themselves to solve the complicated mystery.

Sharna Jackson’s debut novel for children is set in a tower block (surprisingly enough) on a SE London estate. Our detective duo are sisters Nik and Norva, aged 11 and 13, living with their dad on the estate. He is the caretaker of the block and, also, becomes the main suspect when the sisters find the body of their art teacher. Luckily they’ve been honing their detecting skills and are ready for a bigger mystery to solve!

It isn’t only brilliant because it is the first Black British children’s detective series for 9-12s, it is brilliant because it is one of the best children’s detective mysteries I have ever read.

I enjoyed reading this *so* much. It is pretty long for a “middle grade” book (I say MG, but it could easily be enjoyed by older teens as well…and indeed adult readers), but the pages flew by as the investigation continued. Really pleased that it is the first in a series, I want as many of these as there are Poirot novels please!

HIGH RISE MYSTERY is beginning to appear in shops now!

(huge thanks to Colour PR for asking me if I’d like a copy to review)

The Third Degree with Keren David

Barrington Stoke (my old faves) very kindly sent me a copy of The Disconnect, Keren David’s next novella for them, to review.

How will a group of teenagers react when they are offered £1,000 to give up their mobile phone in Keren David’s thought-provoking story of perspective and influence.When an eccentric entrepreneur challenges a class to give up their phones, offering a prize of £1,000 to the one who lasts the longest, Esther is determined to win. But ignoring the draw of technology is difficult and it’s not as easy as she thought to resist that niggling urge. Can she hold out long enough to win the money and what else can Esther and her friends discover when they’re not glued to their screens? An astute and enthralling examination of the highs and lows of social-media life, from one of the most compelling voices in teenage fiction

As usual for a Barrington Stoke title, it says a lot with a few words. What I loved about this book, was that it wasn’t telling teenagers to get off their phones altogether but that perhaps it is worth looking up occasionally…and that parents and other adults are as guilty as teens about overusing their screens! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I pestered Keren for the Third Degree…

Hi Keren, welcome to TeenLibrarian and thank you for giving up your time to undergo the third degree!

What prompted you to write about mobile phone use?

It’s such a huge thing in teenagers’ lives – all of our lives – and I thought it would be good to think about all the things, good and bad that we get from our phones. It’s something that I talk to my children about a lot. And I’d also been talking to a friend whose daughter was being bullied, and a lot of that was happening within Snapchat groups. I had a long talk with my son to work out what might actually tempt teenagers to put down their phones – money, we concluded. 

Do you have any advice for teens that might be worried about social media ruling their lives?


Give yourself a break. Even switching off once a week for 24 hours can put things into proportion, and help you create a sense of yourself that is separate from social media. 

The descriptions of food were wonderful, what inspired Basabousa?

On a very superficial level, I love Middle Eastern food and enjoy going to restaurants where it is served. On a deeper level, at a time of growing antisemitism, I wanted to create a benign character who is Israeli but whose family is originally from an Arab land – as they tend to get ignored in the overheated political narrative. 

This isn’t your first title for Barrington Stoke, how did you first get involved with them?

I loved their mission and books, and wanted to write for them for a long time. Then I had a letter from a dyslexic boy who said he’d enjoyed my books. So my agent used it as a way to approach Barrington Stoke, and luckily they were keen for me to write for them. 

Is writing a novella a very different process to writing a longer novel?

It’s similar but much more concise – no time to dwell on minor characters or sub-plots. I like it! 

If you go into schools, do you prefer writing workshops or author talks?

I’m equally happy to do either. With writing workshops I try and do something that is fun, because I feel that often the enjoyment is sucked out of writing at school. I do one exercise where pupils create characters, then work in pairs to bring those characters together into a plot. Then – after a lot of laughing and excitement – I tell them that’s how my first book started, by doing that very exercise in a creative writing class. 

What are you currently reading and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve just finished Tracey Thorn’s memoir Another Planet: A Teenager in Surburbia (Canongate) which was an extraordinary read for me, as Tracey and I were in the same class at school and did all the same A levels. A lot of it felt like reading my teenage diaries. I’d recommend it to anyone, but especially those of us who were teens in the late 70s. And I’ve just started reading Karen’s McCombie’s Little Bird Flies  (Nosy Crow) which is an absolutely beautiful, emotionally gut-wrenching story, perfect for sensitive 10 to 14 year olds. 

 What are you hoping 2019 will bring?

I’ve just started work on a new book, so I hope that’ll be a good experience! 

The Disconnect is out on 15th April 2019

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan


Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.
Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.

Waaay back in July 2018, I mentioned Muhammad Khan‘s debut novel in my review for The Muslims by Zanib Mian (soon to be republished by Hachette, with some tweaks including new illustrations by Nasaya Mafaridik, as Planet Omar), so feel I should give him his own space this time to explain why his second book is already looking to be one my my books of the year 2019!

Ilyas has to be one of my favourite characters in UKYA, full stop. He is a teenage boy who is committed to his Muslim faith, proud of his mother, loves comics and drawing, hates violence and misogyny, friend to Kelly, and (with her help) a burgeoning feminist. The inclusion of bits of comic strip drawn by Ilyas (actually by Amrit Birdi) is a brilliant hook, and his character Big Bad Waf is actually brilliant. His school is well imagined, the banter is honest, and his thought processes are totally believable as he tries to walk a path between what he wants, what his family wants, and what his ‘friends’ want. It is definitely one to have in every secondary library, and it covers so many “issues” in a non-preachy way that it is a great one to discuss with students.

Kick the Moon‘ is out now from Macmillan (thank you so much guys for hosting our January CILIP YLG London event and giving me a copy!)